Easter is not just about how we can get right with God, but how we can live for God:
Easter is of course a time when we look back and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What sinful man could not do for himself God achieved by sending his Son to take our place on the cross, so that those who come to him in faith and repentance can find forgiveness of sins and newness of life. That is great news.
But let’s look at how this plays out in our daily lives. If you are like me, you often feel quite incompetent, quite unworthy, quite inadequate, and quite hopeless in achieving anything of value for Christ and the Kingdom. We mainly see failure and defeat in our lives, and we wonder how and why God would ever choose to use someone like us. Well, there is even more great news here.
Of course we are weak, unreliable, and quite fallible human beings – even as Christians. It is not our great ability or successfullness or talent that accounts for any wins we might have in the Christian life. It is all due to Him. As 1 Corinthians 15:57 reminds us, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Scripture teaches this lesson over and over again: God uses nobodies and those the world rejects to bring about his purposes. Plenty of Old Testament examples could be mentioned here. Let me offer just one. Consider young David – he certainly seemed to be an unlikely choice for a king to lead the nation of Israel.
But as John Woodhouse reminds us, a key lesson of 1 Samuel is that “God’s answer to the crisis in Israel, like God’s answer to the crisis of the world, comes from the most unexpected quarter. If we insist on looking to the powerful, the influential, and the impressive of this world, we will miss it.” billmuehlenberg.com/2016/03/20/ancient-israel-meant-king/
This was certainly the case with the one true King, even as he entered the world in a cradle in a manger. Most of the world did not take any notice to this event held in a backwater location in the midst of the powerful Roman Empire. But what the world failed to see – and even rejected – God had selected. A totally helpless baby would be the means by which the world was turned upside down, and God achieved his amazing victory over self, sin and death.
We need to always keep these truths in mind. Paul, as already mentioned, knew all about these great spiritual realities.
He knew that all his great achievements and qualifications from his past life were nothing more than dung. He refused to boast in who he was, but in his Saviour who turned his life around. As he wrote in Philippians 3:4-9:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
But it was not just his pagan past that he refused to celebrate or promote. Even as a Christian he sought always to elevate Christ and remind his hearers that there is nothing about us that makes us great saints. It is all because of what Christ does in and through us. Thus in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 we read:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And in 2 Corinthians he speaks about and celebrates his weakness. As he writes in 2 Cor. 11:29-31: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
In the next chapter of that book he again highlights the values of his own weakness and God’s strength (2 Cor. 12:7-10):
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Also in 2 Corinthians we read these words (in 4:7-10): “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
Yes we are mere earthly vessels, breakable jars of clay. But God chooses to use such vessels for his purposes. He gets the glory that way. By doing this it is clear that it is Him and HIM alone who is doing anything of worth and value in and through us.
That is always the way God operates: he uses the weak and the despised and the rejected. He uses the failures and the unqualified. He uses those that the world thinks nothing of. He uses us in our weakness and frailty and inability. It really is remarkable when you think about it.
All of God’s great saints have known this truth. Elisabeth Elliot, who went through her fair share of grief and suffering, including the death of her husband Jim at the hands of the Auca Indians in Ecuador, said this in the 1986 epilogue to her 1956 book Through Gates of Splendor:
It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, the whole scene, the whole mess, the whole package—our bravery and our cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses. The God who could take a murderer like Moses and an adulterer like David and a traitor like Peter and make of them strong servants of His is a God who can redeem savage Indians, using as the instruments of His peace a conglomeration of sinners who sometimes look like heroes and sometimes like villains, for “we are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure (the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ), and this proves that such transcendent power does not come from us, but is God’s alone” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NEB).
Or as Charles Spurgeon put it:
There is nothing remarkable in us, we are in ourselves poor, frail fragile creatures, like earthen vessels of no particular value, yet this we do not regret, for there is a good reason for it: The most earnest and faithful minister of the gospel must ever remember that humbling truth. He has this precious treasure of the gospel entrusted to his charge; he knows he has it, and he means to keep it safely, but, still, he is nothing but an earthen vessel, easily broken, soon marred, a poor depository for such priceless truth. Yet God has a good reason for putting this treasure into earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. If angels had been commissioned to preach the gospel, we might have attributed some of its power to their superior intelligence, and if only those had been called to preach the gospel who were men of great intellect and of profound learning, we might have considered that the talent of man was the essential qualification for a preacher. But when God selects, as He often does, nay, as He always does–earthen vessels, and some that seem more manifestly earthen than others, then the excellency of the power is unquestionably seen to be of God, and not of us.
If a baby in a manger from an obscure part of the world can go on to die a lowly criminal’s death, yet become the source of salvation and redemption, then there is hope for us as well. That is also part of the Easter message. God uses those who the world ignores. He uses nobodies to achieve his purposes. So we can celebrate being a nobody – even a weak and often failing one. God prefers using such cracked vessels.